[Prev Page] [Next Page ] [Contents]

The impact of electronic publishing on library services and resources in the UK

2.6 Electronic mail

Librarians, especially those working in academic and research environments, are already substantial users of E-mail within their own institutions and with colleagues elsewhere. Such E- mail, if understood simply as a quick, convenient means of sending and receiving messages might not be seen to fall within the terms of reference of this report. However, while E-mail may generally have been perceived and used initially as a substitute for the telephone, written correspondence, internal memoranda or even conversation as a means of private communication between individuals in both the academic and business worlds, it has, as pointed out by Burton and others (ref5) , become complementary to the traditional means of communication and is now widely used for the discussion of ideas, exchange of experience and other features familiar from print formats such as periodicals.

As the possibilities offered by bulletin boards and discussion-lists for both one-to-one and one-to-many communication have expanded, a number of questions of potential concern have been identified. They apply to librarians both as individual users and as information specialists in general, particularly those in academic and research libraries, as well as to the teachers and researchers who are amongst the heaviest users of E-mail. These concerns may be considered as relating generally to questions of intellectual property rights, aspects of the security, privacy and confidentiality of messages transmitted and received, and the legal and ethical dilemmas, whether potential or actual, arising from access to and further usage of the contents of messages communicated. Most if not all of these concerns seem to derive from uncertainty as to the status of a message delivered electronically: for example, whether a message, if sent from one individual to another or from one individual to a bulletin board with subsequent wider distribution to other members of that board, may be said to have been published. If such a message is considered not to have been published, then questions arise as to what the recipient or recipients may legally or ethically do with the message. For example, should views expressed, ideas discussed or solutions to problems offered in an 'unpublished' E-mail message be legitimately disclosed to others, either electronically or in more traditional forms or formats? If, on the other hand, they are deemed to have been published, to what extent may the sender be held responsible for their content and to what extent may the recipient make use of them for his or her own purposes, and how should they be referred to or cited? As far as legal aspects are concerned it has been suggested that laws covering, for example, libel, copyright, obscenity or race relations may be equally applicable to E-mail. However, the increasingly international character of much E-mail raises further questions as to which legal system would have jurisdiction in, for example, the case of a message transmitted by a user in the United States to a correspondent in the United Kingdom which appeared to infringe legislation in force in one of the countries but not in the other.

The extent to which such problems are likely to affect librarians in their role as professional rather than private users of E-mail is unclear, but librarians should be aware of the legal and ethical aspects of this particular form of electronic communication.

[Prev Page] [Next Page ] [Contents]

[UKOLN Home Page] [Papers and Reports] [British Library Papers and Reports ]